Thursday, January 9, 2014

Published:

NJ Gov. Christie fires aide, says he knew nothing about creating traffic jams to punish mayor

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides on Thursday and apologized repeatedly for his staff's "stupid" behavior, insisting during a nearly two-hour news conference that he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams as part of a political vendetta against a Democratic mayor.

"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," Christie said as he addressed the widening scandal, which could cast a shadow over his expected run for the White House in 2016.

The famously blunt governor fielded dozens of questions from reporters with uncharacteristic patience and at times a sorrowful tone.

Christie, who had previously assured the public that his staff had nothing to do with the September lane closings that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge, said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly "because she lied to me" when he demanded weeks ago that anyone who knew anything about the episode come forward.

The gridlock in Fort Lee delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters for four days.

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Bad timing: Drug probe of nuclear officers tempers Hagel's effort to boost morale at base

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AP) -- Hoping to boost sagging morale, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a rare visit Thursday to an Air Force nuclear missile base and the men and women who operate and safeguard the nation's Minuteman 3 missiles. But his attempt to cheer the troops was tempered by news that launch officers at another base had been implicated in an illegal-narcotics investigation.

Two officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana are being investigated for allegations of drug possession, said a service spokesman in Washington, Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth. Both of those being investigated are ICBM launch officers with responsibility for operating intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The launch officers' access to classified information has been suspended, and they have been prohibited from serving on missile launch control duty while the Air Force is investigating, another defense official said. That official provided no further details and spoke only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name.

At the Wyoming nuclear missile base, meanwhile, Hagel addressed officers and airmen after a series of security lapses and discipline problems that were revealed in Associated Press news stories in 2013. Officials have said the service members are increasingly tired of working in what can seem like oblivion. They win no battles, earn no combat pay and only rarely are given public credit of any kind.

"You are doing something of great importance to the world," Hagel told the group. Lest they sometimes doubt that importance, he said, "You have chosen a profession where there is no room for error -- none."

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Lawmakers say Obama still weighing NSA phone collection policy, makeup of intelligence court

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is still grappling with key decisions on the future of the National Security Agency's phone collection program and the makeup of the secret court that approved the surveillance, lawmakers said Thursday following a 90-minute meeting at the White House.

Obama is expected to back tighter restrictions on foreign leader spying and also is considering a presidential commission's recommendation to strip the NSA of its ability to store telephone records from millions of Americans. The president could announce his final decisions as early as next week.

"The president and his administration are wrestling with the issues," Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and privacy advocate, said after the meeting. "It's fair to say that the next few weeks are going to be crunch time in terms of judgments being made in both the administration and the Congress."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the meeting focused in particular on the telephone data program and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The president also met this week with his top intelligence advisers, many of whom oppose changes to the NSA programs, and a review group appointed by Congress that is working on a report focused on the surveillance systems. Privacy advocates met with senior White House staff Thursday afternoon, and technology companies have been invited to a meeting on Friday.

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Iraqi government holding off on waging an offensive against al-Qaida in Anbar province

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's government is holding off on waging an all-out offensive to retake two key cities from al-Qaida because of fears that civilian casualties could incite Sunni anger and push moderate tribal leaders to side with the extremists, analysts and military officials said Thursday.

More violence flared in Baghdad, where a suicide bomber killed 21 people at an army recruiting center in a clear effort to demoralize the military.

Al-Qaida-linked fighters overran parts of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Sunni-dominated Anbar province last week, seizing control of police stations and military posts, freeing prisoners and setting up their own checkpoints.

The United States, whose troops fought bloody battles in the cities, has ruled out sending its troops back in, but has been delivering missiles to bolster Iraqi forces. It is expediting shipments of more American-made missiles and 10 surveillance drones, but those may not arrive for weeks.

The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and withdrew in 2011. Both countries tried but failed to negotiate plans to keep at least several thousand U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the deadline to maintain security.

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Fla. man survives being stuck under truck for hours in subzero temperatures, snow in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Tim Rutledge's eyelid had frozen shut. His voice was hoarse after competing for hours with bitter-cold wind and humming truck engines while screaming for help. He was losing consciousness, pinned under his rig in sub-zero temperatures at an Indiana truck stop.

The longtime Florida truck driver had crawled under his truck with a hammer to loosen ice from his brakes around 4 a.m. Monday, as record-breaking temperatures swept into the state. But the truck suddenly settled deeper into the snow, pinning him beneath an axle.

The 53-year-old was trapped, helpless as his cellphone rang dozens of times in a coat pocket he couldn't reach. It had been about eight hours. He feared he was near death.

Then his phone suddenly toppled from his pocket, its vibrating ring enough to finally wiggle it free. He was able to scoop it up with his right hand inside a frozen glove, use its voice dial to call a company dispatcher and muster a quiet plea for help.

"I said 'Whoever this is, don't hang up on me because it's going to be the last time that I'll be able to call. I can't call out and I can't answer the phone,'" Rutledge said Thursday, recalling his experience as he sat in a leather armchair at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

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Missouri man accused of raping girl in 2012 pleads guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment

MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- Two years and a day after a northwest Missouri high school freshman said she was raped by an older schoolmate at a party, the girl and her mother said they are satisfied that her assailant has been held accountable for his actions.

While the misdemeanor child endangerment charge to which Matthew Barnett, 19, pleaded guilty Thursday fell well short of the felony sexual assault count they thought he deserved, Daisy Coleman and her mother, Melinda Coleman, said they're now hoping for closure after two extremely painful years.

"I am ready to move forward," Daisy Coleman, now 16, said in a statement provided by special prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. "To all those who supported me, I promise that what happened on January 8, 2012, will not define me forever."

Barnett's plea agreement, accepted Thursday by Nodaway County Associate Circuit Judge Glen Dietrich, means he won't have to spend time in jail nor face trial for sexual assault. It also means Daisy -- who has spoken extensively with the media about her experience, especially since The Kansas City Star detailed her claims in a lengthy story in October following a seven-month investigation -- won't have to testify in court and be grilled by defense attorneys.

Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor, was brought in from Kansas City to reopen the case amid criticism that Nodaway County prosecutor Robert Rice wasn't doing enough when he dismissed a felony charge against Barnett and instead pursued only a misdemeanor child endangerment charge against the Maryville native. Melinda Coleman alleged that Rice's decision to drop the case was politically motivated -- Barnett's grandfather was a four-term Missouri state representative who was a state trooper for 32 years.

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Indian diplomat accused of lying about housekeeper's wages indicted in NY, ordered to leave US

NEW YORK (AP) -- An Indian diplomat accused of lying about how much she paid her housekeeper was ordered to leave the United States on Thursday after she was indicted on two criminal charges and Indian authorities refused to waive her immunity, authorities said.

Devyani Khobragade, who had been strip-searched when arrested, was expected to leave the country late Thursday or early Friday after she was charged by a federal grand jury with visa fraud and making false statements in a case that has triggered an outcry in India. She's accused of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her New York housekeeper.

A U.S. government official in Washington who was not authorized to speak about the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity said the U.S. accepted India's request to accredit her to the United Nations, which confers broader immunity than what she enjoyed as a consular official. It would be almost unprecedented for the U.S. to deny such a request unless the diplomat was a national security risk.

The United States asked the government of India to waive the immunity, but the Indians refused, so the U.S. then "requested her departure" from the country, the official said.

At a court hearing late Thursday involving only lawyers in the case, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin was told by Khobragade's lawyer, Daniel Arshack, that he had told Khobragade not to board a flight Thursday afternoon until he had informed the judge presiding over her case that she has diplomatic immunity and had been ordered by the Department of State to leave the country.

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Are we becoming weather wimps? Weather analysis shows deep freezes were once far more common

WASHINGTON (AP) -- We've become weather wimps.

As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900.

Until recently.

When computer models estimated that the national average daily temperature for the Lower 48 states dropped to 17.9 degrees on Monday, it was the first deep freeze of that magnitude in 17 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That stretch -- from Jan. 13, 1997 to Monday -- is by far the longest the U.S. has gone without the national average plunging below 18 degrees, according to a database of daytime winter temperatures starting in January 1900.

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Carmakers and technology companies urge lawmakers to catch up to driverless tech

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The future of driving is right around the corner.

Hydrogen- and solar-powered vehicles are on the streets. So are cars that can get you through stop-and-go traffic while you sit back and send texts from behind the wheel. Cars are even using radar, ultrasonic waves and cameras to jump into the passing lane and get around slowpokes.

Sure, all of these technologies are still in the testing phase, but that hasn't stopped car makers and technology companies from showing off a new paradigm of driving at the International CES gadget show this week. It's a world in which you no longer grip the wheel with excitement, but instead relax with a book or movie as your car chauffeurs you to your destination.

It's also a future that won't materialize, say carmakers, unless legislators around the world create a new legal framework.

One simulation at CES by Delphi Automotive PLC, a provider of auto parts and technology to major manufacturers including Ford, GM and Volvo, shows the possibilities. The scenario, using a stationary but souped-up Tesla Model S, imagines "autonomous driving lanes," much like carpool lanes today. The company says vehicles might someday enter these lanes and then run on auto-pilot. The feat is possible today with a mixture of technology that keeps cars inside lanes and adaptive cruise control that matches a car's speed to the vehicle in front of it.

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Police: Rapper Flavor Flav stopped for speeding to mother's funeral in suburban NY

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- State police say rapper Flavor Flav was ticketed for speeding and driving without a license en route to his mother's funeral in suburban New York.

The rapper, whose real name is William Drayton, was allegedly driving 79 mph in a 55 mph zone Thursday morning on the Meadowbrook Parkway.

Police say the Long Island native also had a small amount of marijuana, and had 16 suspensions on his license.

Police say he was released on an appearance ticket so he could attend the funeral for his mother, who died Dec. 31.

The rapper is due in court Jan. 28. The name of his attorney was not immediately available.